The finish was Bliss’ second of the 2014 season and his first since Loudon, six races ago. With eleven races to go, he now takes sole possession of second in the battle for the 2014 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship, one finish behind leader Dave Blaney.
For the Atlanta race, Bliss was tabbed to drive in place of Blaney in the #37, the part-time third entry Tommy Baldwin Racing debuted at Indianapolis in July. Last Saturday at Bristol, Blaney pulled out of the Bristol race after 37 laps, giving him the LASTCAR lead. Bliss, meanwhile, finished 17th in Bristol’s Nationwide race - his fourth-consecutive finish inside the Top 20.
44 cars showed up to attempt to qualify, but by one position in Owners Points, Bliss’ ride outranked the #77 Randy Humphrey Racing team, which for the first time had Joe Nemechek behind the wheel. Bliss timed in 33rd in the opening practice, then improved in qualifying with the 28th-fastest time at a speed of 187.481 mph. Nemechek, meanwhile, squeezed into the Top 36 by securing the 34th spot, leaving Michael McDowell and the Leavine Family Racing #95 with its first DNQ since Richmond in April.
Bliss was 40th-fastest in Saturday’s first practice, and was the ony driver to not participate in Happy Hour later that day. He then participated in the night’s Nationwide event for TriStar Motorsports, extending his top-twenty streak with another 17th-place finish.
In Sunday’s race, Bliss’ teammate Reed Sorenson started last in a flat black #36 Chevrolet. Bliss took 43rd on Lap 2, then was passed by Nemechek on Lap 9. On Lap 17, Nemechek was the first to lose a lap to race leader Kevin Harvick. But just six laps later, Bliss was the first car to pull behind the wall, securing him the last-place finish.
For the rest of the race, the remainder of the Bottom Five changed several times until four separate incidents made them the only other retirees of the night. Finishing 42nd was Marcos Ambrose, who was running mid-pack when the engine on his #9 Stanley Tools / DeWalt Ford let go on the backstretch on Lap 125. In 41st was Tony Stewart, making his first Cup start since his tragic sprint car accident on August 9th. Stewart started 12th and contended early, only to hit the wall twice. The second incident on Lap 173 tore up the right-front fender, ending his night.
40th spot went to A.J. Allmendinger, whose right-rear tire on his #47 Hungry Jack Chevrolet shredded in the opening stages, leaving debris that was picked up on the nose of Jimmie Johnson’s #48. Allmendinger spent several laps behind the wall, then briefly returned before finally falling out in the closing stages. 39th-place Brad Keselowski started on the outside-pole and was running 3rd with just 27 laps to go when he was wrecked in Turn 4 during a sequence of green-flag stops. Keselowski didn’t fall to 39th until five laps to go as Clint Bowyer’s gearbox problem cost him eleven laps in the garage.
*This is the first last-place finish for the #37 in a Cup race at Atlanta since October 30, 2005, when Mike Skinner’s BoSPOKER.net Dodge was involved in a crash after he completed 5 laps of the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500.
*This is the first time two different drivers finished last for the same team in consecutive Cup races since August 2012, when the late Jason Leffler lost fuel pressure on the #19 Humphrey Smith Racing Ford at Michigan, then Mike Bliss climbed aboard Humphrey’s #19 Toyota that lost power steering after 6 laps at Bristol.
*Bliss is the first Cup driver in 2014 to finish last with “vibration” as the official cause.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #37-Mike Bliss / 23 laps / vibration
42) #9-Marcos Ambrose / 122 laps / engine
41) #14-Tony Stewart / 170 laps / crash
40) #47-A.J. Allmendinger / 258 laps / vibration
39) #2-Brad Keselowski / 296 laps / crash / led 3 laps
LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Dave Blaney (3)
2nd) Mike Bliss (2)
3rd) A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., David Gilliland, Denny Hamlin, Timmy Hill, Travis Kvapil, Kyle Larson, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, Johnny Sauter, Morgan Shepherd, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Truex, Brian Vickers, Cole Whitt (1)
LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) #37-Tommy Baldwin Racing, #77-Randy Humphrey Racing, #93-BK Racing (2)
2nd) #11-Joe Gibbs Racing, #14-Stewart-Haas Racing, #15-Michael Waltrip Racing, #21-Wood Brothers Racing, #26-BK Racing, #32-Go FAS Racing, #33-Circle Sport, #38-Front Row Motorsports, #40-Hillman Racing, #42-Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, #43-Richard Petty Motorsports, #47-JTG-Daugherty Racing, #55-Michael Waltrip Racing, #66-Michael Waltrip Racing / Identity Ventures Racing, #78-Furniture Row Racing, #83-BK Racing, #87-Identity Ventures Racing, #88-Hendrick Motorsports, #95-Leavine Family Racing (1)
LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet, Toyota (9)
2nd) Ford (7)